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Jury Finds Gun Store Negligent In Shooting Of Milwaukee Police Officers

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A jury in Milwaukee has found a gun store negligent today for the sale of a handgun used to shoot two police officers in 2009. They were both shot in the head and survived. They sued the shop - it's called Badger Guns - for allowing what's known as a straw purchase. The shooter, who was 18 years old at the time, couldn't buy a gun legally, so he paid someone he knew to buy it for him. John Diedrich had been covering this case for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He's now - he joins us now from outside the courtroom. Welcome to the program.

JOHN DIEDRICH: Thank you.

MCEVERS: And so tell us what exactly was the decision that came down today?

DIEDRICH: Well, the jury had 23 questions to answer. Five of those were the key questions as to whether Badger Guns broke the law, and if they did, did they knowingly do it; did they negligently do it; and were they liable for that? On four of those five, they found that Badger Guns did break the law and that they knew or should have know that they were breaking the law. They also found in favor of the police officers who were shot punitive damages and awarded those as well.

MCEVERS: And what kind of damages are we talking about?

DIEDRICH: Well, altogether, we're looking at just over $5 million for the two officers. Part of the difference between them - it's not equal, but Graham Kunisch sustained more injuries. He lost his left eye and suffered some brain damage as a result of it. Bryan Norberg sustained serious injuries as well but not quite as serious, as he's back on the job as a police officer.

MCEVERS: How did these officers react to the decision?

DIEDRICH: Well, we just spoke with the attorney for the officers, and Bryan Norberg was overwhelmed with emotion. But the - Graham Kunisch has throughout the trial been stoic, and that's part of his brain damage and part of his condition right now, is, he has this very sort of stoic demeanor. And he was that way throughout the trial, including when he testified. And what he told his attorney was basically thanks, and that was it.

MCEVERS: What about the owners of the store, Badger Guns?

DIEDRICH: Well, interestingly, they were not in court for the verdict. This is the only time during the more-than-two-week trial that they were not present.

MCEVERS: This case is being watched closely all over the country. I mean, what are the implications here?

DIEDRICH: Well, this is the first case that's gone to trial in which a trial found for the plaintiffs since a federal law passed 10 years ago that held gun stores and gun manufacturers immune from these kind of cases. And so what's happened is there's a number of other cases around the country and other interest groups that have looked to say, what happens here could have an effect. Though, they also caution to say, every case has different facts, and what a jury found in Milwaukee, you know, another jury in another place may not find that. But it is significant. In the 10 years that this federal law's been in place, this is the first time that a jury's found for a plaintiff against a gun store.

MCEVERS: I mean, this kind of case where a gun dealer's responsibility is being raised at all, I mean, has been extremely rare also. Can you explain why?

DIEDRICH: Well, again, what they had to show - the hurdle's pretty high. You have to show that a law was broken and that the individual who broke the law wasn't just, you know - sort of made a mistake but that knew or should have known - in other words, that they were negligent in this process.

And so, you know, in this particular case - you alluded to it at the beginning - you have a straw purchase. You have video of that. You have testimony. The actual individual who ended up with the gun was sort of hanging right on the shoulder of the straw buyer during the purchase. So there were several aggregating factors in this case. But the law, as it stands, makes it pretty tough to sue, and that clearly was the intention of Congress.

MCEVERS: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's John Diedrich. Thank you so much.

DIEDRICH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.